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Wa VS Ga

Topic Marker and Subject Marker

Roughly speaking, "wa" is a topic marker, and "ga" is a subject marker. The topic is
often the same as the subject, but not necessary. The topic can be anything that a
speaker wants to talk about (It can be an object, location or any other grammatical
element). In this sense, it is similar to the English expressions, "As for ~" or
"Speaking of ~."

Basic Differences Between Ga and Wa

"Wa" is used to mark something that has already been introduced into the
conversation, or is familiar with both a speaker and a listener. (proper nouns, genetic
names etc.) "Ga" is used when a situation or happening is just noticed or newly
introduced. See the following example.

Mukashi mukashi, ojii-san ga sunde imashita. Ojii-san wa totemo shinsetsu
deshita. = Once upon a time, there lived an old man. He was very kind.

In the first sentence, "ojii-san" is introduced for the first time. It is the subject, not
the topic. The second sentence describes about "ojii-san" that is previously
mentioned. "Ojii-san" is now the topic, and is marked with "wa" instead of "ga."

Wa as Contrast

Beside being a topic marker, "wa" is used to show contrast or to emphasize the
subject. Particles such as "ni(に)," "de(で)," "kara(から)" and "made(まで)"
can be combined with "wa" (double particles) to show contrast. Whether "wa"
indicates a topic or a contrast, it depends on the context or the intonation.

Ga with Question Words

When a question word such as "who" and "what" is the subject of a sentence, it is
always followed by "ga," never by "wa." To answer the question, it also has to be
followed by "ga."

Ga as Emphasis

"Ga" is used for emphasis, to distinguish a person or thing from all others. If a topic
is marked with "wa," the comment is the most important part of the sentence. On
the other hand, if a subject is marked with "ga," the subject is the most important
part of the sentence. In English, these differences are sometimes expressed in tone
of voice. Compare these sentences.
Taro wa gakkou ni ikimashita. = Taro went to school.
Taro ga gakkou ni ikimashita. = Taro is the one who went to school.

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